Order Code RL30981 CRS Report for Congress Received through the CRS Web Panama: Political and Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations Updated November 16, 2006 Mark P. Sullivan Specialist in Latin American Affairs Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress Panama: Political and Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations Summary With four successive elected civilian governments, the Central American nation of Panama has made notable political and economic progress since the 1989 U.S. military intervention that ousted the regime of General Manuel Noriega from power. The current President, Martín Torrijos of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), was elected in May 2004 and inaugurated to a four-year term on September 1, 2004. Torrijos, the son of former populist leader General Omar Torrijos, won a decisive electoral victory with almost 48% of the vote in a four-man race. He succeeded President Mireya Moscoso of the Arnulfist Party (PA), elected in 1999, whose administration was tainted by several high-profile corruption scandals. Torrijos’ electoral alliance also won a majority of seats in the unicameral Legislative Assembly. The most significant challenges facing the Torrijos government have included dealing with the funding deficits of the country’s social security fund; developing plans for the expansion of the Panama Canal; and combating unemployment and poverty. After protests and a protracted strike by construction workers, doctors, and teachers in 2005, the Torrijos government was forced to modify its plans for reforming the social security fund. In April 2006, the government unveiled its ambitious plans to build a third lane and new set of locks that will double the Canal’s capacity. A constitutionally required referendum on the expansion project was held on October 22, 2006, with 78% of voters supporting the project. The United States has close relations with Panama, stemming in large part from the extensive linkages developed when the Panama Canal was under U.S. control and Panama hosted major U.S. military installations. The current bilateral relationship is characterized by extensive cooperation on counternarcotics efforts, assistance to help Panama assure the security of the Canal and its border with Colombia, and negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement. The United States provided Panama with $19 million in foreign aid in FY2005, and an estimated $14.4 million in FY2006. The FY2007 request is for $17.4 million, with $4 million under the Andean Counterdrug Initiative and $3.2 million in development assistance. U.S.-Panamanian negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement began in late April 2004. A ninth round held in Washington ended in mid-January 2006, with disagreement on sanitary control systems for U.S. products and animals to enter the Panamanian market. Panama is seeking an FTA as a means of increasing U.S. investment in the country, while the Bush Administration has stressed that an FTA, in addition to enhancing trade, would further U.S. efforts to strengthen support for democracy and the rule of law. FTA negotiations had been suspended in the lead up to the Canal expansion referendum, but some observers believe that an agreement still could be finalized by the end of 2006. For additional information, see CRS Report RL32540, The Proposed U.S.Panama Free Trade Agreement, by J.F. Hornbeck. Contents Most Recent Developments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Political Conditions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 From the Endara to the Moscoso Administration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Endara Government (1989-1994) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Pérez Balladares Government (1994-1999) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Moscoso Government (1999-2004) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Torrijos Government (2004-2009) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Human Rights . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Economic Conditions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 U.S. Relations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Background and Overview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 U.S. Trade Relations and a Potential Free Trade Agreement . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Operation and Security of the Panama Canal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Historical Background and the Panama Canal Treaties . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Canal Transition and Current Status . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Canal Expansion Project . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Privatization of Two Panamanian Ports and the China Issue . . . . . . . 16 Contamination of Firing Ranges and San Jose Island . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Former U.S. Military Presence in Panama . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Former Role and Presence of U.S. Troops . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 Failed Negotiations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 U.S. Congressional Views on U.S. Military Presence . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 Panamanian Views on U.S. Military Presence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 List of Figures Figure 1. Map of Panama . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 Panama: Political and Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations Most Recent Developments On November 7, 2006, Panama was elected to hold a two-year rotating Latin America seat on the U.N. Security Council. The country had emerged as a consensus candidate on November 1, 2006, after 47 rounds of voting between Guatemala and Venezuela. During those rounds, Guatemala, the U.S.-backed candidate, had received about 25-30 votes more than Venezuela, but neither country received the two-thirds vote needed for the seat. Many observers attribute Venezuela’s defeat, at least in part, to President Hugo Chávez’s strong anti-American speech before the U.N. General Assembly in September. In the context of Panama’s close relations with the United States, the election of Panama to the seat bodes well for U.S. interests at the United Nations compared to the potential of Venezuela winning the seat. In a national referendum held on October 22, 2006, Panamanians approved the Torrijos government’s Canal expansion project with over 78% support. In mid-October 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) helped Panama solve the mystery of recent deaths ultimately traced to contaminated cough syrup and other medications including antihistamine tablets, calamine lotion, and rash ointment. As of mid-November 2006, 42 people had died from the contamination. As part of the government’s response, President Torrijos announced a proposal to revamp the health system by creating an autonomous authority to control the quality of medicines and services. Political Conditions Panama has made notable political and economic progress since the December 1989 U.S. military intervention that ousted the military regime of General Manual Antonio Noriega from power. The intervention was the culmination of two and a half years of strong U.S. pressure against the de facto political rule of Noriega, commander of the Panama Defense Forces (PDF). Since that time, the country has had four successive civilian governments, with the current government of President Martín Torrijos elected in May 2004 to a four-year term. Inaugurated on September 1, 2004, Torrijos is the son of former populist leader General Omar Torrijos. His electoral alliance, led by the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), also won a majority of seats in the unicameral Legislative Assembly. CRS-2 From the Endara to the Moscoso Administration Endara Government (1989-1994). Before the U.S. intervention, Panama had held national elections in May 1989, and in the presence of a large number of international observers, the anti-Noriega coalition, headed by Guillermo Endara, prevailed by a three-to-one margin. The Noriega regime annulled the election, however, and held on to power. By the fall, the military regime was losing political power and relied increasingly on irregular paramilitary units, making the country unsafe for U.S. forces and U.S. citizens. On December 20, 1989, President George Bush ordered the U.S. military into Panama “to safeguard the lives of Americans, to defend democracy in Panama, to combat drug trafficking, and to protect the integrity of the Panama Canal Treaty.” Noriega was arrested on January 3, 1990, and brought to the United States to stand trial on drug trafficking charges.1 As a result of the intervention, the opposition coalition headed by Guillermo Endara that had won the May 1989 election was sworn into office. During his term, President Endara made great progress in restoring functioning political institutions after 21 years of military-controlled government, and under his administration, a new civilian Public Force replaced Noriega’s Panama Defense Forces. But Endara had difficulties in meeting high public expectations, and the demilitarization process was difficult, with some police and former military members at times plotting to destabilize, if not overthrow, the government. Pérez Balladares Government (1994-1999). In May 1994, Panamanians went to the polls to vote in presidential and legislative elections that observers called the freest in almost three decades. Ernesto Pérez Balladares, candidate of the former pro-Noriega Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), who led a coalition known as “United People”, won with 33% of the vote. Placing a surprisingly strong second, with 29% of the vote, was the Arnulfista Party (PA) candidate, Mireya Moscoso de Gruber, heading a coalition known as the “Democratic Alliance.” In the electoral race, Pérez Balladares campaigned as a populist and advocated greater social spending and attention to the poor. He stressed the need for addressing unemployment, which he termed Panama’s fundamental problem. Pérez Balladares severely criticized the Endara government for corruption, and he was able to overcome attempts to portray him as someone closely associated with General Noriega. (Pérez Balladares served as campaign manager during the 1989 elections for candidate Carlos Duque, who the Noriega regime had tried to impose on the electorate through fraud.) Instead, Pérez Balladares focused on the PRD’s ties to the populist policies of General Omar Torrijos, whose twelve-year (1969-1981) military rule of Panama ended when he died in a plane crash in 1981. 1 After a seven-month trial, Noriega was convicted on 8 out of 10 drug trafficking counts in U.S. federal court in Miami in April 1992, and he was sentenced to 40 years in prison. In 1999, a federal judge reduced Noriega’s prison term to 30 years because of disparity between his sentence and his co-conspirators. The reduction makes Noriega eligible for parole in 2007. CRS-3 President Pérez Balladares implemented an economic reform program and worked closely with the United States as the date of the Panama Canal turnover approached. Under his government, Panama and the United States held talks on the potential continuation of a U.S. military presence in Panama beyond the end of 1999 (the date Panama was to assume responsibility for defending the Canal). Ultimately negotiations ended without such an agreement. (For more see “Former U.S. Military Presence in Panama” below.) Although Panama’s constitution does not allow for presidential reelection, President Pérez Balladares actively sought a second term in 1999. In 1997, the PRD had begun studying the possibility of amending the constitution to allow a second bid for the presidency in the May 1999 elections. Ultimately, a referendum was held on the issue in August 1998 but failed by a large margin. Late in his administration, Pérez Balladares became embroiled in a scandal involving the illegal sale of visas to Chinese immigrants attempting to enter the United States via Panama. As a result, U.S. officials cancelled the former president’s U.S. tourist visa in November 1999.2 Moscoso Government (1999-2004). In her second bid for the presidency, Arnulfista Party (PA) candidate Mireya Moscoso was victorious in the May 1999 elections. Moscoso, who was inaugurated September 1, 1999, for a five-year term, captured almost 45% of the vote and soundly defeated the ruling PRD’s candidate Martin Torrijos (son of former populist leader Omar Torrijos), who received almost 38% of the vote. Until March 1999, Torrijos had been leading in opinion polls, but as the election neared, the two candidates were in a dead heat. A third candidate, Alberto Vallarino, heading a coalition known as Opposition Action, received about 17% of the vote. President Moscoso, a coffee plantation owner and Panama’s first female president, ran as a populist during the campaign, promising to end government corruption, slow the privatization of state enterprises, and reduce poverty. She also promised to ensure that politics and corruption did not interfere with the administration of the Canal. The memory of her husband Arnulfo Arias, a nationalist who was elected three times as president, but overthrown each time, was a factor in the campaign, particularly since Arias was last overthrown in 1968 by General Omar Torrijos, the father of the PRD’s 1999 and 2004 presidential candidate. Although Moscoso took the presidency, the PRD-led New Nation coalition won a majority of 41 seats in the 71-member unicameral Legislative Assembly. Just days before her inauguration, however, Moscoso was able to build a coalition, with the support of the Solidarity Party, the Christian Democratic Party (which later became the Popular Party), and the National Liberal Party, that gave her government a oneseat majority in the Assembly. In August 2000, the Christian Democrats deserted the coalition and formed an alliance with the principal opposition, the PRD. However, corruption scandals in 2002 led to five PRD legislators defecting to support the 2 “Ex-Leader of Panama Linked to Visa Sales,” Washington Post, Nov. 27, 1999; Pablo Bachelet, “U.S. Uses Visas to Combat Corruption,” Miami Herald, Feb. 21, 2006. CRS-4 Moscoso government, once again giving the President majority support in the Legislative Assembly. As noted above, Moscoso was elected as a populist, with pledges to end government corruption and reduce poverty, but her campaign pledges proved difficult to fulfill amid high-profile corruption scandals and poor economic performance. As a result, the President’s popularity declined significantly from a 70% approval rating when she first took office in 1999 to only 15% in 2004.3 Torrijos Government (2004-2009) On May 2, 2004, Panama held elections for president, as well as for a 78member Legislative Assembly. In the presidential race, Martín Torrijos of the PRD won a decisive victory with 47.5% of the vote, defeating former President Guillermo Endara, who received 30.6% of the vote, and former Foreign Minister José Miguel Alemán, who received 16.4% of the vote. Torrijos’ electoral alliance also won a majority of seats in the unicameral Legislative Assembly, 43 out of 78 seats, which should provide him with enough legislative support to enact his agenda. Elected at 40 years of age, Torrijos spent many years in the United States and studied political science and economics at Texas A&M University. He served four years under the Perez Balladares government as deputy minister of interior and justice, and as noted above, became the PRD’s presidential candidate in the 1999 elections. Leading up to the election, Torrijos had been topping public opinion polls, with 42-49% support. In the campaign, he emphasized anti-corruption measures as well as a national strategy to deal with poverty, unemployment, and underdevelopment. He was popular among younger voters and had a base of support in rural areas. Torrijos maintained that his first priority would be job creation.4 He called for the widening of the Canal, a project that would cost several billion dollars, and would seek a referendum on the issue. During the campaign, all three major candidates supported negotiation of a free trade agreement with the United States, maintaining that it would be advantageous for Panama. Endara and Alemán appeared to emphasize the protection of some sensitive Panamanian sectors such as agriculture, while Torrijos stressed that such an agreement would make Panama’s economy more competitive and productive.5 The most significant challenges facing the Torrijos government have included dealing with the funding deficits of the country’s social security fund (Caja de Seguro Social, CSS); developing plans for the expansion of the Panama Canal; and combating unemployment and poverty. After protests and a protracted strike by construction workers, doctors, and teachers in June 2005, the Torrijos government 3 “Toss Up Between Torrijos and Endara,” Caribbean and Central America Report, Feb. 17, 2004. 4 Frances Robles, “Ex-leader’s Son Wins Presidency in Panama,” Miami Herald, May 3, 2004. 5 “Panama: Presidential Candidates Remark on FTA with US,” La Prensa (Panama), Jan. 24, 2004, translated by Foreign Broadcast Information Service. CRS-5 was forced to modify its plans for reforming the social security fund. After a national dialogue on the issue, Panama’s Legislative Assembly approved a watered-down version of the original plan in December 2005. The enacted reform did not raise the retirement age but will gradually increase required monthly payments into the system and introduces a dual pension system that combines aspects of privatization with the current system.6 In April 2006, the government unveiled its ambitious plans to build a third set of locks that will allow larger post-Panamax ships to transit the Canal. Panama’s Cabinet approved the expansion plan on June 14, and the Legislative Assembly approved it on July 10, 2006. A referendum on the expansion project took place on October 22, 2006, with 78% supporting the project. The referendum in part can also be viewed as support for the Torrijos government, which advanced the project as integral to Panama’s future economic development. (For more, see “Canal Expansion Plans” below.) Human Rights The Panamanian government generally respects human rights, but, as noted by the State Department in its human rights report for 2005 (issued in March 2006), serious human rights problems continue in a number of areas. Prison conditions overall remained harsh, with reported abuse by prison guards. Prolonged pretrial detentions remained a problem. According to the human rights report, the judiciary is subject to political manipulation, and the criminal justice system is inefficient and often corrupt. Over the past several years, Panama had been criticized by the State Department and international human rights groups for vestiges of “gag laws” used by the government to silence those criticizing policies or officials, but in May 2005, Panama’s legislature repealed these restrictive laws. The State Department’s 2005 human rights report maintained that in the past, the government and public figures used libel and disrespect-for-authority laws to intimidate journalists or hurt the reputation of a particular government institution or leader. In August 2004, outgoing President Mireya Moscoso pardoned many journalists charged with libel and related crimes. Under the Torrijos government, Panama’s legislature gave its final approval in May 2005 to repeal the “gag laws” that restricted freedom of the press, although the State Department 2005 human rights report noted that 15 libel cases against journalists were pending. The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists lauded Panama’s steps to improve its press freedom by repealing many of its gag laws, but expressed concern that journalists were not shielded from criminal penalties, with Panama’s penal code still including criminal defamation provisions allowing for penalties of up to two years in prison.7 In an attempt to redress human rights abuses that occurred under military rule and to prevent their reoccurrence, President Moscoso created a Truth Commission 6 Marion Barbel, “Panamanian Congress Approves Modified Social Security Reform,” World Markets Research, Dec. 22, 2005 7 Committee to Protect Journalists. Attacks on the Press in 2005. CRS-6 in January 2001 to investigate violations under the military regime. The Truth Commission (subsequently re-established as the Office of Truth Commission Continuation) issued its report in April 2002, and its investigations have been used by the government to reopen some past human rights cases. The Commission has recommended that the government investigate 33 cases of killings or disappearances committed during the 1968-1989 period of military rule. In July 2006, just as one of the first human rights trials was approaching an end, a former military officer implicated in the 1970 killing of activist Heliodoro Portugal died from an apparent heart attack. There are reportedly 110 human rights cases involving the torture, incarceration, murder, or disappearance of political activists under the period of military-dominated government.8 With regard to worker rights in Panama, the State Department’s 2005 human rights report noted that unions and collective bargaining are permitted in export processing zones (EPZs) but noted that the International Labor Organization’s Committee of Experts questioned the government as to whether these workers have the right to strike. Panama’s law regulating the EPZs does not include arbitration or specify procedures to resolve labor disputes. The State Department report also noted that child labor was a problem, with violations occurring most frequently in rural areas at harvest time and in the informal sector, where many children work as “street vendors, shoe shiners, cleaning windows, washing cars, bagging groceries in supermarkets, picking trash, or simply begging for money.” Economic Conditions Panama’s service-based economy has performed well in the last several years, with economic growth rates of 4.2% in 2003, 7.6% in 2004, 6.4% growth in 2005, and an estimated 7.4% in 2006. With a per capita income level of $4,450 in 2004, Panama is classified by the World Bank as an upper-middle-income developing country. Yet income distribution remains highly skewed with large disparities between rich and poor. In October 2005, the Torrijos government launched an antihunger and anti-poverty program targeting the rural population and an indigenous community in a central rural province. Unemployment has fallen for the past four years, averaging 9.6% in 2005 and projected to average 8.8% in 2006. The Torrijos government has pledged to tackle job creation and infrastructure improvement in 2006.9 The administration of President Pérez Balladares (1994-1999) implemented an economic reform program that included liberalization of the trade regime, privatization of state-owned enterprises, the institution of fiscal reform, and labor code reform. Tariffs were reduced to an average of 8%. The Moscoso government partially reversed the trade liberalization process by raising tariffs on some 8 Steven Dudley, “Justice Elusive for Victims of Panama’s Ex-Dictators,” Miami Herald, September 29, 2006. 9 “Panama: Country Report,” Economist Intelligence Unit, October 2006. CRS-7 agricultural products, some of which reached the maximum rate allowed under Panama’s World Trade Organization obligations.10 Although Panama has traditionally eschewed economic linkages and integration schemes with its Central American neighbors (largely because of its privileged relationship with the United States), it has joined with Mexico and Central American states in a regional economic project known as the Puebla-Panama plan. The plan, which has the goal of spurring development in the region, will improve highways, standardize customs procedures, and join power grids to improve the quality of life in the region. As part of its strategy of increasing its global trade and investment links, and accentuating its role as a global transportation hub, Panama has pursued free trade agreements (FTAs) with several countries, including the United States (see “U.S. Trade Relations and a Potential Free Trade Agreement” section below). In June 2003, an FTA with El Salvador entered into force, and in March 2003 Panama negotiated a framework agreement with the five Central American countries. In June 2006, Panama signed an FTA with Chile. Beyond the Western Hemisphere, Panama negotiated an FTA with Taiwan that entered into force in January 2004, and in April 2005, Panama and Singapore announced the conclusion of talks for a free trade agreement that was ratified in June 2006. U.S. Relations Background and Overview The United States has close relations with Panama, stemming in large part from the extensive history of linkages developed when the Panama Canal was under U.S. control and Panama hosted major U.S. military installations. Today, about 25, 000 U.S. citizens reside in Panama, many retirees of the former Panama Canal Commission. U.S. officials congratulated Panama on the success of the October 2006 Canal expansion referendum but also asserted that the challenge for the government is to ensure that the expansion project is conducted with transparency and without any hint of corruption.11 The current U.S. relationship with Panama is characterized by extensive cooperation on counternarcotics efforts as well as U.S. assistance to help Panama assure the security of the Canal and the security of its border with Colombia. Panama was one of several Latin American nations that publicly supported the United States during the war with Iraq as a member of the “coalition of willing.” As noted above, U.S.-Panamanian negotiations for a bilateral FTA began in April 2004. Panama is 10 United States Trade Representative, 2006 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, p. 501. 11 U.S. Department of State, U.S. Embassy Panama, “Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary Charles S. Shapiro at Panama Week,” and “Ambassador Eaton’s Remarks at the Panama Week Power Breakfast,” October 2006. CRS-8 seeking an FTA as a means of increasing U.S. investment in the country, while the Bush Administration has stressed that an FTA with Panama, in addition to enhancing trade, would further U.S. efforts to strengthen support for democracy and the rule of law. The United States turned over control of the Canal to Panama at the end of 1999, according to the terms of the 1977 Panama Canal Treaty, at which point Panama assumed responsibility for operating and defending the Canal. All U.S. troops were withdrawn from Panama at that time and all U.S. military installations reverted to Panamanian control. However, under the terms of the Treaty on the Permanent Neutrality and Operation of the Panama Canal, or simply the Neutrality Treaty, the United States retains the right to use military force if necessary to reopen the Canal or restore its operations. Before the turnover of the Canal and the closure of U.S. military bases in 1999, the United States conducted negotiations with Panama beginning in 1995 for a Multinational Counternarcotics Center that would have extended the U.S. military presence in Panama for a 12-year period with an explicit focus on drug interdiction. Although a tentative agreement was reached in 1997, the negotiations ultimately broke down in 1998, largely because of Panama’s internal politics. An issue that received considerable attention in the U.S. Congress before the turnover of the Canal and U.S. bases in 1999 involved allegations that China could threaten the operation of the Panama Canal because of its links to a Hong Kong company operating ports at both ends of the Canal. Both State Department and Department of Defense officials have indicated that the port operations do not constitute a threat to the Canal. Panama did not agree to a continued U.S. military presence, but the country does cooperate extensively with the United States on counternarcotics efforts. In 2002, the two countries signed an agreement to conduct joint patrols for drug interdiction. While the government has made significant efforts to strengthen its anti-money laundering regime since 2000, the State Department’s March 2006 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report maintains that Panama needs to remain vigilant to the threat that money laundering poses to the stability of the country’s legitimate financial institutions. U.S. assistance to Panama increased annually from FY2001-FY2005, with the country receiving counter-narcotics assistance under the Bush Administration’s Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI)12, but assistance levels began to drop in FY2006. The United States provided $8.2 million in total foreign assistance to Panama in FY2001, $16.2 million in FY2002, $16.7 million in FY2003, $18.2 million in FY2004, and $19 million in FY2005. For FY2006, an estimated $14.4 million in foreign assistance will be provided. The Administration’s FY2007 request is for $11.7 million, including $4 million in ACI assistance, $3.2 million in development assistance, $1.4 million in military assistance, and $3 million for a Peace Corps program. 12 For more information, see CRS Report RL33370, Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI) and Related Funding Programs: FY2007 Assistance, by Connie Veillette. CRS-9 A sensitive issue in U.S.-Panamanian relations has been Panama’s desire to have the United States clean up three contaminated firing ranges in Panama as well as San Jose Island, which was contaminated with chemical weapons used in training exercises during World II. With regard to the firing ranges, U.S. officials maintain that the United States has already met its treaty obligations to clean up the ranges. With regard to the cleanup of San Jose Island, Panama rejected a U.S. offer in September 2003 that would have provided equipment and training so that Panama could clean up the island; the Panamanian government maintains that it did not want to sign any agreement releasing the United States from liabilities. President Bush visited Panama on November 7, 2005, on his way back from the fourth Summit of the Americas held in Argentina. During the visit, President Bush endorsed the concept of widening the Canal and indicated that the two countries were close to completing negotiations for a free trade agreement. While in Panama, President Bush also rejected Panama’s calls to remove unexploded ordnance from former U.S. firing ranges that were returned to Panama in 1999. According to the President, “we had obligations under the treaty, and we felt like we met those obligations.” Despite the disagreement, President Bush indicated that Panama and the United States could discuss the issue in a constructive way since the two countries have friendly relations.13 Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering An important concern for U.S. policymakers over the years has been securing Panamanian cooperation to combat drug-trafficking and money-laundering. Panama is a major drug-transit country for illicit drugs from South America to the U.S. market because of its geographic location and its large maritime industry and containerized seaports. Moreover, the country’s service-based economy, with a large banking sector and trading center (Colón Free Zone), make Panama a significant drug money laundering center. Drug traffickers use fishing vessels, cargo ships, small aircraft, and go-fast boats to move illicit drugs — primarily cocaine, but also heroin and Ecstasy — through Panama. Some of the drugs are transferred to trucks for northbound travel or are placed in sea-freight containers for transport on cargo vessels. Traffickers also utilize hundreds of abandoned or unmonitored airstrips as well as couriers who transit Panama by commercial air flights. There also has been increasing domestic drug abuse, particularly among youth. Addiction has also increased significantly among Panama’s Kuna indigenous population, whose lands lie just south of a transit zone for Colombian cocaine.14 The country is also a small-scale producer of coca leaf in the remote Darien province that borders Colombia. According to the Department of State, security in Darien has improved in recent years, although the smuggling of 13 White House, Office of the Press Secretary, “President Bush Meets with President Torrijos of Panama,” Nov. 7, 2005; Edwin Chen, “Bush’s Trip Ends with Discord,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 8, 2005; William Douglas, “Bush’s Last Stop: Panama,” Miami Herald, Nov. 8, 2005. 14 Chris Kaul, “A New Foe Threatens Tribe’s Independent Spirit,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 3, 2006; “Panama Tribe Faces Threat as Cocaine Comes Ashore,” Reuters, Feb. 18, 2006. CRS-10 weapons and drugs across the border continues. Drugs and arms trade associated with Colombian terrorist groups also reportedly occurs in other parts of Panamanian territory and in the country’s coastal waters, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.15 The State Department’s March 2006 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report asserts that the United States and Panama cooperate closely on joint counternarcotics effort and that Panama has demonstrated a commitment to build strong law enforcement institutions and to disrupt the flow of illegal drugs to the United States. The United States has provided equipment, training, and information to enhance Panama’s interdiction and eradication capabilities. U.S. assistance is supporting the restructuring of Panama’s law enforcement agencies to enhance their abilities to fulfill their mission. According to the Department of State, continuation of U.S. assistance is crucial in order to ensure effective Panamanian anti-drug efforts. In 2006, Panamanian cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Administration led to two successful anti-drug operations. In January 2006, more than 20 people were arrested in New York and Panama in a heroin smuggling operation involving dozens of “swallowers” who transported the drug.16 In May 2006, law enforcement authorities from the United States, Panama, and several other countries broke up a cocaine smuggling operation that used three islands on Panama’s Caribbean coast to refuel fast boats and fishing trawlers carrying drugs.17 The State Department also maintains that even though Panama has made significant progress in strengthening its anti-money laundering regime since 2000, Panama needs to remain vigilant to the threat that money laundering poses to the stability of the country’s legitimate financial institutions. After Panama was cited in June 2000 as a non-cooperative country in the fight against money laundering by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a multilateral anti-money laundering body, the government took action to improve its laws. The government undertook a comprehensive effort to improve its anti-money laundering regime; it enacted two laws and issued two decrees in 2000. As a result of these efforts, the FATF removed Panama from its non-cooperative country list in June 2001. Because of its extensive offshore financial sector, with some 350,000 offshore-registered companies, Panama continues to be categorized by the State Department as a country of primary concern for money laundering. U.S. Trade Relations and a Potential Free Trade Agreement Panama and the United States began negotiations for a free trade agreement in April 2004. Then U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick formally notified Congress in November 2003 that the Administration expected to launch such 15 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, “Panama: Country Brief,” May 2005, p. 12. 16 Jerry Seper, “DEA Breaks Drug Smuggling Ring of ‘Swallowers,’” Washington Times, Jan. 28, 2006. 17 Chris Kraul, “Alleged Cocaine Kingpin Held in Brazil,” Los Angeles Times, May 20, 2006. CRS-11 negotiations during the second quarter of 2004. Zoellick maintained that negotiating an FTA with Panama would further U.S. efforts to strengthen support for democracy and “shared fundamental values” throughout the region. He maintained that the agreement would enhance trade, promote respect for internationally recognized worker rights, greater respect for the rule of law, sustainable development, and accountable institutions of governance. Zoellick asserted that strong anti-corruption and transparency requirements in the agreement would help combat corruption.18 With the exception of two years (1988-1989) when the United States was applying economic sanctions on Panama under General Noriega’s rule, Panama has been a beneficiary of the U.S. preferential import program known as the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) since its inception in 1984. The program was amended several times and made permanent in 1990. CBI benefits were expanded in 2000 with the enactment of the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA) (Title II, P.L. 106200), which provided NAFTA-like trade benefits, including textile and apparel benefits, to certain CBI countries, including Panama, until September 2008. In the FTA being negotiated with the United States, Panama is looking for a permanent extension of CBI benefits, which Panamanian officials believe would spur U.S. investment in the country, and 10-15 year tariff phase-out periods for certain sensitive agricultural products such as rice, sugar, and corn. Panamanian officials acknowledged that Panama needs to make improvements in its enforcement of the protection of intellectual property rights and in its protections for U.S. investors. They also maintained that the FTA would lead to Panama easing some of its sanitary and phytosanitary restrictions currently in place.19 USTR maintained that obtaining Panama’s recognition of the U.S. meat inspection system will be a primary focus of the FTA negotiations.20 To date, nine negotiating rounds have been held, with the most recent concluding in mid-January 2006 in Washington. There had been expectations that the negotiations would be completed in early 2005, but the eighth round held in February 2005 reflected continued contention over several issues. These include market access for agricultural products considered sensitive by Panama (such as rice, poultry, onions, potatoes, pork, beef, dairy products, soybean oil, and vegetable oil); procurement provisions for the Panama Canal Authority regarding expansion activities; access to Panama for large U.S. retail stores; and verification that textile exports from Panama meet the agreement’s rules of origin.21 18 Office of the United States Trade Representative, “USTR Notifies Congress of Intern to Initiate Free Talks with Panama,” Press Release, Nov. 18, 2003. 19 “Panama Seeks Permanent CBI Extension in Free Trade Deal with U.S.” Inside U.S. Trade, Dec. 19, 2003. 20 United States Trade Representative. 2004 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers. Apr. 1, 2004. 21 “U.S., Panama Again Fail to End FTA Talks, No Date Set for Next Round,” Inside U.S. Trade, Feb. 11, 2005. CRS-12 The ninth round in January 2006 ended with disagreement on sanitary control systems for U.S. products and animals to enter the Panamanian market. The United States wants Panama to recognize U.S. sanitary control systems, which the Panamanian negotiations reportedly did not accept.22 The next round will be held after Panama concludes a “scientific study” on the consequences for the country of changing its phytosanitary standards. The issue, which remains sensitive in Panama, led to the resignation of Panama’s Agriculture Minister on January 10, 2006, who maintained that he had resigned because of his concerns that Panama would be compelled to compromise its food health standards in order to complete negotiations for the free trade agreement.23 Although FTA negotiations were suspended until after Panama held its referendum on the Canal expansion project, some observers believe that an agreement still could be finalized by the end of 2006.24 Panama generally has stronger labor laws than its Central American neighbors, but given that the labor chapter in the agreement reportedly will be identical to that in the U.S.-Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DRCAFTA), it is unclear how Congress might receive the Panama agreement.25 In congressional debate over DR-CAFTA, some Members had objected that the agreement did not include enforceable labor provisions that would allow for the suspension of trade benefits, as in the case of preferential trade arrangements such as the Caribbean Basin Initiative and the Generalized System of Preferences. Since Panama has a service-based economy, it traditionally has imported much more than it exports to the United States. In 2005, the U.S. trade surplus with Panama was $1.8 billion, with Panama exporting $327 million in goods and importing $2.2 billion in merchandise. Panama was the 45th largest U.S. export market in 2005.26 Panama’s major exports include fish and seafood (accounting for one-third of its exports to the United States), and sugar, coffee, and other agricultural products, while major imports include oil, consumer goods, foodstuffs, and capital goods. Almost half of Panama’s exports are destined for the United States, while almost one-third of its imports are from the United States.27 22 Marion Barbel, “Free Trade Negotiations Inconclusive for Panama and the U.S.,” World Markets Research, Jan. 16, 2006. 23 “Panama: Agriculture Minister Resigns Over U.S. Trade Deal,” Latinnews Daily, Jan. 11, 2006; “Panama to Conduct “Scientific Study” Before Resuming FTA Negotiations with U.S.,” El Panama America (Panama City, Panama), Jan. 14, 2006. 24 “Panama FTA Still Seen as Possible as Talks Resume Next Week,” Inside U.S. Trade, October 20, 2006. 25 See CRS Report RL32540, The Proposed U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement, by J. F. Hornbeck. 26 United States Trade Representative, 2006 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Practices. 27 “Panama: Economic Structure, EIU ViewsWire, Mar. 23, 2004. CRS-13 The stock of U.S. foreign investment in Panama was estimated at $5.2 billion in 2005, largely concentrated in the financial and wholesale sectors. This surpassed the combined U.S. foreign investment in the five other Central American nations.28 Operation and Security of the Panama Canal Historical Background and the Panama Canal Treaties. When Panama proclaimed its independence from Colombia in 1903, it concluded a treaty with the United States for U.S. rights to build, administer, and defend a canal cutting across the country and linking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. (See Figure 1, Map of Panama, at the end of this report.) The treaty gave the United States rights in the socalled Canal Zone (about 10 miles wide and 50 miles long) “as if it were sovereign” and “in perpetuity.” Construction of the canal was completed in 1914. In the 1960s, growing resentment in Panama over the extent of U.S. rights in the country led to pressure to negotiate a new treaty arrangement for the operation of the Canal. Draft treaties were completed in 1967 but ultimately rejected by Panama in 1970. New negotiations ultimately led to the September 1977 signing of the two Panama Canal Treaties by President Jimmy Carter and Panamanian head of government General Omar Torrijos. Under the Panama Canal Treaty, the United States was given primary responsibility for operating and defending the Canal until December 31, 1999. (Subsequent U.S. implementing legislation established the Panama Canal Commission to operate the Canal until the end of 1999.) Under the Treaty on the Permanent Neutrality and Operation of the Panama Canal, or simply the Neutrality Treaty, the two countries agreed to maintain a regime of neutrality, whereby the Canal would be open to ships of all nations. The U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to the Neutrality Treaty on March 16, 1978, and to the Panama Canal Treaty on April 18, 1978, both by a vote of 68-32, with various amendments, conditions, understandings, and reservations. Panama and the United States exchanged instruments of ratification for the two treaties on June 16, 1978, and the two treaties entered into force on October 1, 1979. Some treaty critics have argued that Panama did not accept the amendments, conditions, reservations, and understandings of the U.S. Senate, including the DeConcini condition to the Neutrality Treaty. That condition states: “if the Canal is closed, or its operations are interfered with, the United States of America and the Republic of Panama shall each independently have the right to take such steps as each deems necessary, in accordance with its constitutional processes, including the use of military force in the Republic of Panama, to reopen the Canal or restore the operations of the Canal, as the case may be.” However, others argued that Panama, in fact, had accepted all U.S. Senate amendments. The State Department asserted that Panama expressly accepted all amendments, conditions, and understandings to the two treaties, including the DeConcini condition. The United States and Panama signed the instruments of ratification for both treaties, which incorporated all the Senate provisions. The two countries cooperated throughout the years on matters related to the canal and established five binational bodies to handle these issues. 28 U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, “Survey of Current Business,” Sept. 2006, p. 106. CRS-14 Two of the bodies were set up to address defense affairs and conducted at least sixteen joint military exercises between 1979 and 1985 involving Panamanian and U.S. forces. Canal Transition and Current Status. Over the years, U.S. officials consistently affirmed a commitment to follow through with the Panama Canal Treaty and turn the Canal over to Panama at the end of 1999. That transition occurred smoothly on December 31, 1999. The Panama Canal Treaty terminated on that date, and the Panama Canal Commission (PCC), the U.S. agency operating the Canal, was succeeded by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), a Panamanian government agency established in 1997. Under the terms of the Neutrality Treaty, which has no termination date, Panama has had responsibility for operating and defending the Canal since the end of 1999. As noted above, both Panama and the United States, however, in exercising their responsibilities to maintain the regime of neutrality (keeping the Canal secure and open to all nations on equal terms) independently have the right to use military force to reopen the Canal or restore its operations. This is delineated in the first condition of the Neutrality Treaty. The secure operation of the Panama Canal remains a U.S. interest since about 13-14% of U.S. ocean-borne cargo transits through the Canal. The United States provides assistance to Panama to improve its ability to provide security for the Canal and to enhance port and maritime security. In March 2003 congressional testimony, then SOUTHCOM Commander General James Hill stated that Panama was “capable of defending the Canal” and noted that the Canal was “operating very efficiently.”29 During a November 2004 visit to Panama, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld praised Panama’s efforts to protect the Canal.30 Headed by Alberto Alemán Zubieta, the Panama Canal Authority has run the Canal for more than six years and has been lauded for increasing Canal safety and efficiency. Nevertheless, international shipping organizations strongly opposed a sharp toll increase announced by Panama in February 2005 that is being implemented over three years. In January 2006, the Torrijos government established a social investment fund backed by Panama Canal revenues that will invest in schools, hospitals, bridges, roads, and other social projects. The initiative, according to the government, would show Panamanians that the Canal is contributing to economic development and improving the quality of life for Panamanians.31 29 Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, “Testimony of Unified and Regional Commanders on Military Strategy and Operational Requirements in Review of the FY2004 Defense Authorization Request,” Mar. 13, 2003, Federal News Service. 30 Thom Shanker, “Rumsfeld Praises Panama Canal Security,” New York Times, Nov. 15, 2004. 31 Rainbow Nelson, “Canal Cash to Pay for Social Development,” Lloyd’s List, Jan. 18, 2006. CRS-15 Canal Expansion Project. On April 24, 2006, the Panama Canal Authority presented to President Torrijos its recommendation to build a third channel and new set of locks (one on the Atlantic and one on the Pacific) that will double the capacity of the Canal and allow it to accommodate giant container cargo ships known as postPanamax ships. The proposal would also widen and deepen existing channels and elevate Gatun Lake’s maximum operating level. According to the proposed plan, the overall project would begin in 2007 and take from seven to eight years to complete. The estimated cost of the project is $5.25 billion, to be self-financed by the ACP through graduated toll increases and external bridge financing of about $2.3 billion that would be paid off in about 10 years. The Panamanian government would not incur any sovereign debt as a result of the project. According to the ACP, the overall objectives of the expansion project are to (1) achieve long-term sustainability and growth for the Canal’s financial contributions to the Panamanian national treasury; (2) maintain the Canal’s competitiveness; (3) increase the Canal’s capacity to capture the growing world tonnage demand; and (4) make the Canal more productive, safe, and efficient.32 President Torrijos and his Cabinet approved the expansion project on June 14, 2006, and the Legislative Assembly overwhelmingly approved it on July 10, 2006, with 72 out of 78 deputies voting for the project. Pursuant to Panama’s Constitution (Article 319), the project had to be submitted to a national referendum no sooner than 90 days from the date of approval by the Assembly. The Torrijos government chose to hold the referendum on October 22, 2006, close to the anniversary of October 23, 1977, the date when Panamanians approved the two Panama Canal treaties in a national plebiscite by a two-to-one margin. A poll from early September 2006 showed almost 64% public support for the Canal expansion project, but on election day the expansion project received 78% of the vote. The referendum in part can also be viewed as support for the Torrijos government, which advanced the project as integral to Panama’s future economic development. The government maintains that some 7,000 direct jobs will be created by the project, as well as some 35,000 indirect jobs. President Torrijos asserts that increased revenue from the Canal arising from the expansion project will allow the government to launch social development programs and improve living conditions in the country.33 As noted above, U.S. officials congratulated Panama on the success of the referendum but also noted that Panama’s challenge is to ensure that the project is implemented with transparency and without any hint of corruption. There had been some vocal opposition to the Canal expansion project. The organization known as the Peasant Coordinator Against the Dams (CCCE, Coordinadora Campesina Contra los Embalses), consisting of agricultural, civil, and environmental organizations, asserts that the expansion project will lead to flooding and will drive people from their homes. An umbrella protest group known as the 32 Autoridad del Canal de Panama (ACP), “Proposal for the Expansion of the Panama Canal, Third Set of Locks Project,” April 24, 2006. 33 “Panama: Torrijos Wins Backing to Expand Canal,” Latin American Weekly Report, October 24, 2006; “Panama’s Torrijos on Referendum Results: ‘Opportunity to Materialize Our Hopes,” Open Source Center (Panama City TVN), October 23, 2006. CRS-16 National Front for the Defense of Economic and Social Rights (Frenadeso), which was formed in 2005 during protests against social security reforms, called for a “no” vote.34 Former Presidents Jorge Illueca and Guillermo Endara, as well as former Panama Canal administrator Fernando Manfredo, also opposed the expansion project, maintaining that the price is too high and too much of a gamble. Critics fear that the total price tag could rise considerably and are concerned that toll increases could make alternative routes more economically attractive.35 Privatization of Two Panamanian Ports and the China Issue. A controversy that arose in U.S.- Panamanian relations in 1996 and continued through 1999 relates to the privatization of two Panamanian ports at either end of the Panama Canal, Balboa on the Pacific and Cristobal on the Atlantic. In July 1996, the Panamanian government awarded the concession to operate the ports to a Hong Kong company, Hutchison International Port Holdings, one of the world’s largest container port operators and a subsidiary of the Hutchison Whampoa Limited Group. The company operates the concession in Panama as the Panama Ports Company, S.A. Then U.S. Ambassador to Panama William Hughes complained about the lack of transparency in the bidding process in which several U.S. companies competed. The Panamanian government responded with a communique describing the process by which Hutchison was awarded the 25-year concession. Panamanian officials maintain that Hutchison had the highest bid, agreeing to pay Panama $22.2 million annually over the life of the concession. In May 1997, six U.S. Senators charged in a letter to the Federal Maritime Commission that irregularities in the bidding process denied U.S. companies an equal right to develop and operate terminals in Panama. After a review of the issue, the Commission responded that while the port award processes were unorthodox and irregular by U.S. standards, it saw no evidence that U.S. companies were subjected to discriminatory treatment. A May 1997 Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff report on the issue also concluded that while the bidding process was unorthodox, U.S. officials found no evidence of illegality.36 In addition to the privatization process, some press reports in March 1997 raised the issue of Hutchison’s relationship with the Chinese government and the China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) and suggested that China would gain control of the Panama Canal or threaten the operation of the Canal. Over the years, U.S. officials, however, have consistently confirmed that Hutchison’s operations of the ports does not constitute a threat to the Canal. The same May 1997 Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff report mentioned above concluded that legal safeguards in the Panama Canal Treaties and Panamanian law guarantee the continued operation of the Canal and ensures its access to all nations. (Also see CRS Report 97-476, Long 34 “Torrijos Appeals for Approval of Canal Expansion,” Latinnews Daily, Sept. 1, 2006. 35 “Panama: Torrijos Reveals Plans to Expand Canal,” Latinnews Daily, April 25, 2006; Chris Kraul and Ronald D.White, “Panama is Preparing to Beef up the Canal,” Los Angeles Times, Apr. 24, 2006; John Lyons, “Panama Takes Step Toward Expanding the Canal,” Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2006. 36 Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Staff Report on the Privatization of Panamanian Ports. May 1997. CRS-17 Beach: Proposed Lease by China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) at Former Naval Base.) In early August 1999, Senator Trent Lott raised questions about Chinese influence over the Canal in a letter to Defense Secretary William Cohen. Subsequently, both the State Department and the Department of Defense made statements responding to the concerns raised about potential Chinese influence in Panama. In an August 12, 1999, press briefing, the Department of Defense noted that it does not consider Hutchison’s ownership of two port facilities as a threat to U.S. security. DOD asserted that “the company does not have any ability to stop or impede traffic through the Canal” and noted that under the Neutrality Treaty, “the United States has a unilateral right to maintain the neutrality of the Canal and reopen it if there should be any military threat.” The State Department, in an August 12, 1999, press briefing, noted that it has seen “no capability or interest on the part of the People’s Republic of China, a major user of the Canal, to disrupt its operations.” According to September 29, 1999, congressional testimony by Peter Romero, then Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (before the House International Relations Committee, Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere), the U.S. intelligence community also studied the question of the influence of China in Panama as a result of the concession. Romero testified that, after reviewing the study, the State Department concluded that the Hutchison concession “does not represent a threat to canal operations or other U.S. interests in Panama.” On October 22, 1999, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on Canal security. Officials from the Department of Defense, the Panama Canal Commission, the SOUTHCOM, and the Department of State testified, and all concluded that the Hutchison’s port operations did not constitute a threat to the Canal. Ambassador Lino Gutierrez, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, stated that the Department found no information to substantiate the allegation that Hutchison is a front for the People’s Republic of China. He noted that Panama’s contract with Hutchison (Law 5) does not give China any role in determining which ships will pass through the Canal or in which order they will travel, and it does not give Hutchison any control over Canal pilots. Alberto Aleman Zubieta, Administrator of the Panama Canal Commission, stated that “Hutchison has no authority whatsoever to interfere with, dictate or influence the operation of the Canal, nor will it ever be allowed to do so.” Gen. Charles Wilhelm, SOUTHCOM Commander in Chief, stated: “We are not aware of any current internal or external threats to the Panama Canal, and we have no evidence that it has been targeted by terrorists or foreign governments.” More recently, in April 2004, the issue of Hutchison’s operations of the ports was raised during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In response to a question, General James T. Hill, Commander of SOUTHCOM, asserted that CRS-18 Hutchison’s operations of the ports in Panama have not had a negative impact on the security of the Canal.37 Contamination of Firing Ranges and San Jose Island Another issue in relations has been Panama’s desire to have the United States clean up three former firing ranges (Empire, Piña, Balboa West) used by the U.S. military for live-fire exercises and testing of ground explosives during its tenure in the country. The Piña range was turned over to Panama in June 1999, while the Empire and Balboa West ranges were turned over in July 1999. Some 60,000 Panamanians live in areas surrounding the ranges, and reportedly at least 24 Panamanians have been killed in the last two decades by coming into contact with the explosives.38 Estimates of the cost to clean up the unexploded bombs and other contaminants range from $400 million to $1 billion.39 U.S. officials maintain that it is not possible to remove the unexploded ordinance without tearing down the rain forest and threatening the Canal’s watershed. They also point to a Canal treaty provision which states that the United States is obligated to take all measures “insofar as may be practicable” in order to ensure that hazards to human life, health and safety were removed from the defense sites reverting to Panama. In response to a press question while attending Panama’s centennial celebration in November 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell maintained that the United States had already met its obligations to clean up the ranges.40 The controversy over the U.S. cleanup of the ranges at times has been an irritant in the bilateral relationship, but at this juncture appears to be somewhat of a dormant issue. Officials of the Pérez Balladares government (1994-1999) believed that the United States was reneging on its treaty commitment and wanted to press the United States to clean up the firing ranges regardless of economic cost. The Moscoso government raised the issue during her October 19, 1999, meeting with then President Clinton in Washington. At the time, President Clinton stated that the United States had met its treaty obligations to clean up the ranges to the extent practicable, but did say that the United States wanted to stay engaged and work with Panama on the issue. The issue also came up during then Secretary of State Albright’s visit to Panama on January 15, 2000. In a December 2001 letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Panama’s Foreign Minister reiterated his county’s 37 Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, “Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2005,” Apr. 1, 2004, Federal News Service. 38 “No Home on Panama’s Range, U.S. Munitions Scattered Over Canal Training Zones,” Washington Post, Jan. 10, 2000; Vanessa Hua, “U.S. Weapons, U.S. Mess? Panama,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July 1, 2002. 39 “An Expensive Farewell to Arms: The U.S. Has Abandoned 51 Military Sites in Canada.” The Gazette (Montreal), Apr. 28, 2001. 40 U.S. Department of State. International Information Programs. Washington File. “Colin Powell Hails Panama’s 100 Years of Independence,” Nov. 3, 2004. CRS-19 call to clean up the three firing ranges.41 In April 2003, Panamanian Foreign Minister Harmodio Arias asserted that the issue of clearing the firing ranges was not dead.42 As noted above, during a November 2005 visit to Panama, President Bush reiterated the view that the United States had met its obligations under the treaty. On another sensitive issue, U.S. Embassy officials in Panama announced in May 2002 that a plan was being prepared to clean up Panama’s San Jose Island, which was contaminated with chemical weapons used in training exercises during World War II.43 The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapon (OPCW) had confirmed in July 2001 that there were several live chemical bombs on the island, and Panama evacuated residents of the island.44 In September 2003, however, Panama rejected a U.S. offer for the environmental cleanup of the island that would have reportedly offered more than $2 million in equipment and training so that Panama could clean up the island. According to Foreign Minister Harmodio Arias, Panama rejected the offer because it did not want to sign a document releasing the United States from all liabilities.45 A provision in the FY2004 Foreign Operations appropriations measure (P.L. 108-199, Division D) would have permitted Foreign Military Financing for the San Jose Island cleanup. During a November 2004 visit to Panama, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld indicated that issues involving both the firing ranges and San José Island were considered closed.46 At the time, Panamanian officials, however, maintained that both were pending bilateral issues.47 Former U.S. Military Presence in Panama Under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty, all U.S. military forces withdrew from Panama by December 31, 1999, since no mutual agreement was reached to continue their presence. At that time, Panama assumed responsibility for defending as well as operating the Canal. Nevertheless, under the terms of the Treaty on the Permanent Neutrality and Operation of the Canal, often referred to as the Neutrality 41 “Panama Asks U.S. Military to Clean Up Former Bases,” Agence France Presse, Dec. 27, 2001. 42 Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Highlights: Central America Press, Apr. 8, 2003 (“Panamanian Foreign Minister Says Firing Range Cleanup Not Dead Issue,” La Prensa) 43 “U.S. Creates Chemical Weapon Clean-up Plan on Panamanian Island.” EFE News Service, May 27, 2002. 44 “Panama-U.S. Panama Clears Isle After Finding World War II Chemical Weapons.” EFE News Services, Sept. 6, 2001. 45 Victor Torres, “Foreign Minister Explains Why Panama Rejected U.S. San Jose Island Cleanup Offer,” La Prensa (Panama), Oct. 12, 2003 (as translated by Foreign Broadcast Information Service). 46 “Donald H. Rumsfeld Holds Joint News Conference with the Panamanian Minister of Government & Justice,” FDCH Political Transcripts, Nov. 13, 2004. 47 “Donald Rumsfeld in Panama Says Contaminated Firing Ranges ‘Closed Case,’” BBC Monitoring International Reports, Nov. 14, 2004. CRS-20 Treaty, the United States will have the right to use military force to reopen the canal or restore its operations. Former Role and Presence of U.S. Troops. Over the years, U.S. military forces in Panama had several functions. The primary purpose of the troops was to provide for the defense of the Panama Canal, as set forth in the Panama Canal Treaties, until December 31, 1999. Another function served by the presence of the U.S. military in Panama stemmed from its activities throughout Latin America. Until late September 1997, Panama served as the headquarters of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), a unified command responsible for all U.S. military operations south of Mexico. In March 1995, President Clinton announced that SOUTHCOM headquarters, located at Quarry Heights in Panama, would be moved to Miami. The move began in June 1997 and was completed by the end of September 1997. U.S. bases in Panama provided assistance to Latin American nations combating drug trafficking with aerial reconnaissance and counter-narcotics training. Howard Air Force Base in Panama provided secure staging for detection, monitoring, and intelligence collecting assets. Panama also provided unique opportunities and facilities for military training, including the Jungle Operations Training Center (which was deactivated on April 1, 1999) at Fort Sherman, Panama. By the end of December 1999, all U.S. forces had withdrawn from Panama, and all of the U.S. bases and facilities had reverted to Panamanian control. Ten major installations were returned to Panama over a four-year period: Fort Davis and Fort Espinar in early September 1995; Fort Amador, at the Pacific entrance to the Canal, on October 1, 1996; Albrook Air Force Station on October 1, 1997; Galeta Island (a former U.S. Naval Security Group Activity that passed to Army control in 1995) on March 1, 1999; Rodman Naval Station on March 11, 1999; Fort Sherman, on the Atlantic side, on June 30, 1999; and Howard Air Force Base, which ceased air operations in May 1999, was officially turned over to Panama on November 1, 1999, along with Fort Kobbe. Finally, Fort Clayton and was turned over on November 30, 1999. Failed Negotiations. In September 1995, President Clinton and President Pérez Balladares met in Washington and announced that the two countries would begin informal discussions to determine if there was mutual interest in the United States maintaining a military presence in Panama beyond the end of 1999. Those talks never materialized, but instead there were a series of bilateral talks regarding a U.S. contribution to a Multinational Counternarcotics Center (MCC). President Pérez Balladares had announced in July 1996 that Panama would be willing to allow the United States to use Howard Air Force Base, at no cost, as an international drug interdiction center. He stated that Panama would “provide the facility free of charge as part of our contribution to the drug war.” Talks on a potential MCC began in late November 1996 and ultimately led to a tentative agreement, announced December 24, 1997, on the establishment of a MCC with the United States contributing troops for the center. Despite the tentative accord, progress on a final agreement was stymied during 1998, and on September 25, 1998, both countries announced that they were ending the MCC talks without a final accord. CRS-21 As described in the press, the MCC would have involved about 2,000 U.S. troops operating at Howard Air Force Base, Rodman Naval Station, and Fort Kobbe on the Pacific side of the Canal. Other facilities reportedly to be utilized would have been communication facilities at Galeta Island and Corozal. Panama would have provided free use of the bases, while the United States would have been expected to pay for such facilities as housing. The MCC reportedly would have been established for a 12-year period, renewable for additional five-year periods, with the potential participation of other Latin American nations. Reportedly the MCC would have had a Directors’ Council made up of the foreign ministers of participating countries and presided over by Panama’s foreign minister. If the United States and Panama had agreed on the MCC, the next step would have been for Panama’s Legislative Assembly to approve the agreement, which then would have been subject to a national referendum in Panama. As early as April 1998, the Clinton Administration had expressed concern that negotiations would have to be concluded soon, or the United States would be forced to locate the U.S. anti-drug operations elsewhere. Although the text of the draft MCC accord was not made public, press reports indicated that one problem in the negotiations was a provision that would permit U.S. soldiers to engage in other missions beyond counter-narcotics. Panama and several Latin American nations expected to join the MCC expressed reservations about this aspect of the accord, with concerns centered on the potential for U.S. military intervention in the region. U.S. officials, however, maintained that U.S. military activities beyond anti-narcotics work would consist of such benign activities as search and rescue and disaster relief. Another reported problem in the negotiations was the U.S. rejection of Panama’s call to allow a change in the agreement, whereby the center could be dissolved after three years if the drug trafficking problem diminished. Some participants, including former Ambassador Thomas McNamara, the lead negotiator in the talks with Panama, believe that the main reason that an agreement was not reached was Panama’s internal politics. While Panamanian opinion polls overwhelmingly favored a continued U.S. military presence, the President appeared concerned about vocal opposition, even from within his own party, to the proposed center. Moreover, President Pérez Balladares was actively seeking a constitutional change for a second term of office, and this appeared to have influenced the MCC negotiations. In early December 1998, U.S. officials announced that they had begun talks with several Latin American countries to find new bases of operation in Central and South America for the anti-drug missions formerly undertaken in Panama. Short-term interim agreements were concluded in April 1999 to have Forward Operating Locations (FOLs) in Ecuador, Aruba, and Curaçao for U.S. aerial counternarcotics missions. Subsequently, the United States concluded longer-term 10-year agreements with Ecuador and with the Netherlands (for Aruba and Curaçao) for the anti-drug FOLs. An additional FOL site also was being sought in Central America, and on March 31, 2000, a 10-year agreement was signed with El Salvador. In 1999, some Members of the U.S. Congress and politicians in Panama suggested that there was still an opportunity for the United States to negotiate the use of facilities in Panama for U.S. anti-drug flights, similar to the FOLs negotiated with CRS-22 Ecuador, Aruba, and Curacao. Press reports suggested that President-elect Moscoso was interested in allowing the U.S. military to use Panama as a staging area for antidrug flights. In 2000, however, President Moscoso turned down a request from the United States for a visiting military forces agreement. On September 26, 2000, she announced that Panama would not participate in a visiting forces agreement with the United States. U.S. Congressional Views on U.S. Military Presence. Before December 1999, Congress had twice gone on record favoring negotiations to consider a continued U.S. presence in Panama beyond the end of 1999, and in the 104th Congress the Senate approved a non-binding resolution on the issue. In 1991, Congress enacted legislation (P.L. 102-190, Section 3505) expressing the sense of Congress that the President should begin negotiations with Panama to consider whether the two nations should allow the permanent stationing of U.S. forces in Panama past 1999. Twelve years earlier, Congress had approved the Panama Canal Act of 1979 (P.L. 96-70, Section 1111) which states that “it is the sense of the Congress that the best interests of the United States require that the President enter into negotiations” with Panama “for the purpose of arranging for the stationing of United States military forces after the termination of the Panama Canal Treaty.” And on September 5, 1996, the Senate approved S.Con.Res. 14, expressing the sense of Congress that the President should negotiate a new base rights agreement with Panama, while consulting with Congress regarding any bilateral negotiations that take place. In the 106th Congress, numerous measures were introduced relating to a continued U.S. military presence in Panama as the Canal turnover approached, but no legislative action was taken on these measures. The measures would have urged the President to negotiate a new base rights agreement with Panama to permit U.S. troops beyond December 31, 1999 (S.Con.Res.59, S.J.Res.37, H.Con.Res. 233); expressed the sense of the Congress that the United States should negotiate security arrangements with Panama to protect the Canal and to ensure Panama’s territorial integrity (H.Con.Res. 186/S.Con.Res.61); authorized and directed the President to renegotiate the Panama Canal Treaties to provide for the security of the Canal (H.R. 2244); and expressed the sense of the Senate that the President should negotiate security arrangements with Panama regarding the protection of the Canal and that any attack on or against the Canal would be considered an act of war against the United States (S.Res. 257). One measure (H.R. 3452) would have provided that unpaid balances of the Panama Canal Commission be payable to Panama only upon completion of an agreement that leases half of Howard Air Force Base to the United States. In the second session of the 106th Congress, H.R. 3673, introduced by Representative Benjamin Gilman, and reported by the House International Relations Committee (H.Rept. 106-803, Part I), would have provided Panama with certain benefits if Panama agreed to permit the United States to maintain a presence there sufficient to carry out counternarcotics and related missions from Panama. The benefits would have been preferential trade access to the U.S. market; a scholarship program for Panamanians to study in the United States; and assistance for infrastructure construction. Supporters argued that the bill offered an opportunity for the United States to regain its traditional military presence in Panama and restore full CRS-23 U.S. military capability to perform anti-narcotics missions in the region. Opponents argued that Panama had not expressed interest in regaining a U.S. military presence in the country and believed that it could jeopardize talks underway with Panama for a “visiting forces” agreement. The State Department expressed opposition to the bill for several reasons. It maintained that there was a lack of credible support in Panama for any agreement to re-establish a U.S. military presence there; that the quid pro quo nature of the offer to Panama would give the appearance of the United States paying rent for the right to establish a military presence, and U.S. policy was not to pay rent for foreign bases or base rights; and that the trade benefits offered for Panama could violate the most-favored-nation obligation of the World Trade Organization. State Department officials also pointed out that trade benefits for Panama and other Caribbean Basin countries had been enacted into law in May 2000 as part of the U.S.Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (Title II of P.L. 106-200). In the 107th Congress, just a single resolution was introduced related to the stationing of U.S. troops in Panama, but no legislative action was taken on the measure. H.Con.Res. 296, introduced by Representative Bob Barr on December 20, 2001, would have urged the President to negotiate a new base rights agreement with Panama in order for U.S. Armed Forces to be stationed there for purposes of defending the Canal. In the 108th Congress, H.Con.Res. 9, introduced by Representative Virgil Goode, is identical to H.Con.Res. 296 introduced in the 107th Congress described above. The resolution would urge the President to negotiate a new base rights agreement with Panama for the purposes of defending the Panama Canal. Panamanian Views on U.S. Military Presence. Prior to the departure of U.S. troops at the end of 1999, public opinion polls in Panama cited overwhelming support for a continued U.S. military presence. Some Panamanians focused on the importance of continuing a U.S. military presence to help conduct counternarcotics operations in Panama and in the region. They pointed with concern to incursions of Colombian narco-traffickers into the Darien jungle region of Panama. Despite the polls, Panamanian opponents to the MCC were vocal and staged protests at various times. In 1997, there were several protests by student, human rights, and labor groups who opposed a continued U.S. presence. An umbrella organization was formed known as the Organizations Against Military Bases, which included some 30 labor, peasant, and student groups. In early 1998 another umbrella organization against U.S. military presence was formed, the National Movement for the Defense of Sovereignty, consisting of labor, student, and professional organizations. These groups argued for the need to break what they regarded as Panama’s dependent relationship with the United States and recover its own national identity. CRS-24 Figure 1. Map of Panama Panama Canal Caribbean Sea COSTA RICA BOCAS DEL TORO Golfo de los Mosquitos Gatun Lake COLON COCLE CHIRIQUI Madden Lake SA NB LAS Lago Bayano PANAMA Car i b b e an Sea Pacific Ocean Bay of Panama Archipielago De Las Perlas VERAGUAS CAYMAN ISLANDS COLOMBIA Isla del Ray Golfo de Chiriqui Gulf of Panama Panama International Boundary Province Boundary National Capital Province Capital San Blas is a territory (comarca). 25 50 75 Kilometers 0 0 25 50 DARIEN LOS SANTOS Isla de Coiba Isla de Cebaco 75 Miles Source: Map Resources. Adapted by CRS. (K.Yancey 5/25/06) COLOMBIA NO RTH PA CIF IC OC EA N